Wednesday, July 20, 2016

All the U.S. Can Do is Play Cat and Mouse with the Dragon in the South China Sea

Austin Ramzy has a decent story, "KFC Targeted in Protests Over South China Sea," about an uptick in Chinese protests directed at the United States for its support of the Philippines' successful suit, decided last week in The Hague by an international tribunal, denying China's territorial claims over the South China Sea. According to Ramzy,
KFC outlets in about a dozen cities, including Hangzhou, in Zhejiang Province; Changsha, in Hunan Province; and Yangzhou, in Jiangsu Province, were targeted by protests and calls for a boycott on Monday, according to a report from Sohu News, a Chinese online news outlet. But the campaign was far smaller than previous nationalist boycotts, and state media outlets warned protesters to avoid any illegal behavior.
Ramzy doesn't mention the bombings of Kentucky Fried Chickens in Egypt last year. Yum Brands, the corporate owner of KFC, says it plans on selling its China operations, no doubt a shrewd business decision given that we are at the beginning of what promises to be a prolonged period of showy super-power saber rattling.

Yesterday Michael Forsythe reported, "China Begins Air Patrols Over Disputed Area of the South China Sea," that the Dragon would begin overflight of the Spratly Islands:
HONG KONG — China said Monday that it had begun what would become regular military air patrols over disputed islands and shoals of the South China Sea, highlighting its claim to the vast area a week after an international tribunal said Beijing’s assertion of sovereignty over the waters had no legal basis
China’s air force flew a “combat air patrol” over the South China Sea “recently,” Xinhua, the official news agency, reported, citing Shen Jinke, an air force spokesman. The patrol consisted of bombers, fighters, “scouts” and tankers and would become “regular practice,” Mr. Shen said, according to Xinhua.
The announcement of the air patrols, plus a separate statement that China would conduct military exercises in the South China Sea off the coast of Hainan Island, came as Adm. John M. Richardson, the chief of United States naval operations, was in Beijing to discuss the South China Sea and other issues that arose after the tribunal rebuked China’s claims over the waters on July 12.
The landmark decision rejected China’s assertion that it enjoys historical rights over a huge area of the South China Sea encompassed by a “nine-dash line.” China had argued that the tribunal had no jurisdiction in the matter.
On Monday, Admiral Richardson’s Chinese counterpart, Adm. Wu Shengli, said China would continue construction in the South China Sea. In the past two years, China has reclaimed thousands of acres on seven features in the Spratly Islands, an area where Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims, building ports, large airstrips and radar installations.
“We will never stop our construction on the Nansha Islands halfway,” Xinhua, in a separate report, quoted Admiral Wu as saying, using the Chinese name for the Spratly chain. “The Nansha Islands are China’s inherent territory, and our necessary construction on the islands is reasonable, justified and lawful.”
Bonnie S. Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that a more telling test of China’s posture after the decision last week may come when the United States Navy resumes so-called freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, which often involve testing Chinese claims by ordering American ships to transit within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-claimed features.
The story is worth reading for its helpful map of the South China Sea.

The U.S. is in a pickle here. It can only threaten belligerence, belligerence that the Chinese know is a complete farce. Is the U.S. willing to go to war over territorial claims and island construction in the South China Sea? How can it when it is fighting multiple wars in the Greater Middle East and Africa and every aspect of its political life is divided? The GOP is split, as are the Democrats. The deep state is intact but it is at capacity managing the rewrite of Sykes-Picot and its reboot of the Cold War, not to mention the dissolution of the European Union that these moves have elicited. Also worth mentioning, a completely moribund U.S. antiwar movement will rise from the dead if it looks as if Obama's Asia pivot is going to morph into a shooting war.

No, all the U.S. can do is plead for the Dragon to come to the negotiating table. An illuminating sample of the pleading tone can be found in an unsigned editorial published by The New York Times last week, "Testing the Rule of Law in the South China Sea":
Given China’s stake in peaceful trade with the rest of the world, it would be foolish for President Xi Jinping to take provocative actions that could inflame regional tensions and conceivably lead to a military confrontation with its neighbors or the United States. Retaliatory measures — further island-building at Scarborough Shoal, for instance, or declaring an air defense zone over large portions of the South China Sea — would be risky.
In fact, the ruling offers a fresh opportunity to address maritime disputes in a peaceful manner. China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, condemned Tuesday’s ruling but said Beijing remains open to negotiations. Nations in the region have often gone wobbly in the face of pressure from Beijing. At this critical moment, despite competing interests of their own, they need to join the Philippines in endorsing the tribunal decision and then proceed, if necessary, with their own arbitration cases.
The United States, which is neutral on the various claims, can help ensure a peaceful, lawful path forward. The Obama administration has said that disputes should be resolved according to international law, a position it now reaffirms. It has built closer security relations with Asian nations and responded to China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea with increased naval patrols. This combination of diplomacy and pressure is sound, but the hard part is getting the balance right.
My guess is the U.S. is going to play the long game. Draw out negotiations, play cat and mouse with its destroyers and its spy planes, and hope that Abe can rapidly militarize a pacific Japanese populous. Better than a war with China, but still foolish and unsuccesful.

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